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How to Play - Outdoor Play Focus

Yesterday, I wrapped up my second ever Tinkergarten class! We had an amazing season of playful learning! We jumped like squirrels, created bird feeders, painted the winter sky, caught the wind, created friends out of potatoes and SO MUCH MORE. I love that we are continuing to build an incredible community that supports each other as parents, adults, teachers of our little ones, military spouses, etc while enriching our kiddos' development. Guides have helped me fix my car seat, cope with my first time as a solo parent, get back to weightlifting, literally all the things :) - and I get to help them find new ways to play and learn with their kiddos - it's a pretty cool trade. However, today started our time between Tinkergarten seasons. I got an awesome text from a guide last night asking how I play outdoors with my little one AND sharing that she wanted to get out more often between now and spring Tinkergarten classes. I am lucky in that in some ways, I'm a five year old trapped in a 29 (tomorrow!) year old body and that I've been around kids for my entire life. I never stopped playing and learning. I had to learn to slow down and continue to learn to respect how my little one plays and to be present even if we're sliding for a solid hour... BUT, I had the benefit of consistently working my play muscles - for some adults, having a kiddo is the first invitation to play that they've had in decades! Or, they may have a kiddo who LOVES making mud pies while they enjoyed dress up :). So, this is the first in a series about how to play. Today's focus is outdoor play. I'll also share how we play with stories, art, and more :). Take what works in your life, leave the rest, share the play and learning using #watchwonderbloom. AND, if you want to play in community with others, please join a Tinkergarten class near you! All leaders offer free trials each season - build your toolbox for play!

Step 1: Reflect and Notice - On a piece of paper, in a journal, in your head, etc jot down or think about how you liked to play when you were little. Think general at first. Then, list what you liked to do outside. Now, skim through photos and videos if you want, jot down how your kiddo/s/students like to play and what they like to do outdoors. Highlight things that are similar. Star things that are VERY different or challenging for you or for your kiddo from the other list (for example, my little one loves throwing and kicking balls... I do not; many of my students liked video games, I didn't - I knew those were areas for me to explore more or outsource to others (ie signing up for Soccer Shots when we find a class near us)).

Step 2: Simply Follow - Look at your calendar and the weather forecast. Choose a day that looks nice-ish or that you have appropriate gear for. Plan a 20min-2hr chunk of time to just go outside. Get ready, let your kiddo head out the door with you right behind. Follow them. This might mean you slide for 30 minutes or sail leaves on a puddle for a hour or sit by a tree for 15 minutes. Notice what is around you that could be interesting to use in play. Tossing acorns down slides is one of our favorites. Are there sticks that you could prop on a tree to make a lean-to big enough for a toy? Big enough for your kiddo? Big enough for you and your kiddo?

Step 3: Embrace the "Boredom" - A) Boredom is important and B) What looks like boredom to adult eyes is often processing time children need to play in a new way - click on the links for more info. Kiddos thrive on repetitive play, while adults crave novelty. Get honest with yourself - are YOU bored or is your kiddo bored? If YOU are bored, bring a book or sketchbook with you, see how many pictures of wildflowers you can take, build a tree house for a spider. etc. I am challenging myself to go to my phone less when I'm bored so I can stay more present with HG. What will you do to embrace play that doesn't excite you?

Step 4: Design Challenges (or borrow some :) - Humans love (and love to hate) challenges. You can see this at the gym (how heavy?), a race (how fast?), the library (how many books?), social media (#30days...). Challenges are often really small action steps you can take toward bigger goals that you commit to for a certain amount of time - this makes them seem much more doable. Read 10 minutes a day sounds more doable than read 20 books this year, etc. One of my favorite ways to boost play for myself, my little one, and families in my community is by providing challenges. You can jump on another one or create your own. There's the #150hoursoutside project (see details here), books like Vitamin N by Louv, or the mini-challenges I've created for time between Tinkergarten seasons (Winter Photo Scavenger Hunt and Spring Tinkergarten Challenge).

Here are some steps to creating your own outdoor play challenges:

  1. Think of your goal. Here are some examples: We want to spend more time outside. We want to learn the animals in our area. Hm...not sure but learning about outdoor survival seems fun... We just want to play more! I want my kiddo to learn to play on their own.

  2. List little things you can do to get there. Perhaps your challenge is to spend at least 5 minutes outside each day or to use a field guide to identify a different animal or bird or plant you see each week. You could list specific things you want to try outside like: stargaze; shoot hoops; build a tent; go for a hike; visit a new park; make a crown out of flowers. Then, put these in a bucket or box and draw one each day. You can also fold them, write a time/cost estimate, etc so you know if you're picking one suitable to your day. Older kiddos might love to contribute to this!

  3. Make sure you will actually enjoy some of the things on your list. If your kiddo is all about some mud play and you can't stand it, include something you love! Like, sitting on a picnic blanket and having a pretend tea party! Then...suck it up once in a while and embrace the mud and bath time immediately after :).

  4. If you don't like it, ditch it. If an hour outside a day doesn't fit in with work and school, aim for a 10 minute walk in the morning and evening - if and when an hour will work for your family, it'll happen organically if you commit to something doable.

  5. Share what you do! Whether you're a social media guru or avoid it like the plague, when we share what we are doing with others we often feel more accountable for keeping it up AND we inspire others. So, text your partner or a friend or a parent what you're doing. Love social media? Share what you're doing there (and tag @watchwonderbloom and/or use #watchwonderbloom and #playoutdoorsall4)!

Step 6: Rest Easy - Every experience our kiddos have in early childhood and each experience our kiddos have in school can be a learning experience. No experience is wasted. Out for a hike and thunder rolls in? Make sure you know what to do - and YES this can be scary, but your kiddos will learn from how you react and they'll learn important safety tips (sit on something non metal away from a tree and not on a hill OR get back to your car if you are nearby). Realize playing in water is overwhelming for your little one? Note it, respect it, comfort your kiddo, introduce it more slowly in the future, move on. AND, expect that more outdoor play will lead to better naps and sleep :). It's amazing :).

I can't wait to see the challenges your family and community choose and create! Please check out the Spring Tinkergarten Challenge for three options: create a get outside box, build a home for a friend, or go on a texture scavenger hunt.
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